Veteran farmer and entrepreneur Armond Morris of Ocilla, Ga., was honored at the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition as the 2002 Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

Morris, who was chosen as the Georgia state winner in judging conducted by the Georgia Agricultural Extension Service, accepted a check for $12,500 from J. Thomas Ryan, executive vice president of Swisher International, which sponsors the award with the Sunbelt Expo.

Morris was one of eight state winners who were finalists for the prestigious agricultural award, now in its 13th year. It was presented during ceremonies at the Willie B. Withers Exhibitor's Luncheon on the opening day of the Sunbelt Expo. The Sunbelt Expo, North America's Premier Farm Show, was held Oct. 15-17.

“Mr. Morris is an outstanding entrepreneur and innovator who has overcome adversity to build an ultra-successful farming operation,” said Ryan. “We are proud to honor him into this group of 104 farmers who have been honored during the 13 years of this award.”

The presentation to Morris was the highlight of the opening-day luncheon, attended by more than 1,000 people. In addition to the $12,500 overall award and $1,500 award, which goes to each state winner from Swisher International on behalf of its Lancaster Premium Chewing Tobacco brand, Morris will receive a year's supply of Dickies clothing from the Williamson-Dickie Company, the use of a Massey Ferguson farm tractor from AGCO, Inc., a custom-crafted safe and a home security safe from Misty Morn Safes and a $1,000 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperatives, Inc.

State winners who joined Morris on the podium and in the judging for the Southeastern honor are from: Alabama, Charles Burton of Lafayette; Florida, William D. (Will) Putnam III of Alturas; Mississippi, Hugh M. Arant, Jr. of Ruleville; North Carolina, Craven Register of Clinton; South Carolina, Gill Rogers of Hartsville; Tennessee, Ed Rollins of Pulaski; and Virginia, J. Hudson Reese of Scottsburg.

“I never remember not wanting to farm,” said Morris, a farmer for 38 years. “As a youngster, I dreamed that someday I would have a farm of my own.”

Today, Morris farms more than 2,100 acres and grows 700 acres of peanuts - 200 acres that are irrigated. His irrigated peanut crop yields 3,625 pounds per acre while the remaining 500 acres yields 3,075 pounds per acre.

Cotton is also instrumental in Morris' success. He grows 1,400 acres - 500 acres that are fully irrigated. This yields 980 pounds per acre while the non-irrigated area yields 785 pounds. Other crops on his farm include 540 acres of wheat and 30 acres of rye, plus 365 acres of woodlands.

He also operates Morris Agricultural Services, Inc., which provides farmers in the region with chemicals and fertilizers along with being a USDA-approved peanut buying point for Golden Peanut Company, LLC.

“My goal was to have ownership and to provide my family with a comfortable living and to experience the thrill I enjoy each day of being close to nature and God's creation and to see things grow and develop. I have achieved this goal through hard work and dedication to my farming enterprise,” Morris said.

Morris currently is the chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission, representing 7,000 Georgia peanut farmers. He is also a board member of the American Peanut Council and has assisted in coordinating their international campaign by traveling to numerous countries to sell American peanuts.

“My goal was to help improve and save the peanut program, which is so valuable to the area economy. I made several trips to Washington to visit with congressmen, senators, staff and the secretary of agriculture expressing the plight of Georgia farmers,” said Morris.

Morris also has served on the National Peanut Grower Group and helped lead the farmer delegation in crafting the 2002 farm bill for Georgia.

Morris is assisted in the farming operation by his wife, Brenda, and son, Jason, 27. Morris' daughter, Melanie, 30, resides in Upstate South Carolina with her husband and daughter.

Morris was nominated for the Georgia honor by Irwin County Extension Coordinator Gibbs Wilson.

Morris' farm, and those of all of the state winners was visited by a distinguished group of judges in August. The judges included former Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Farmer of the Year James Lee Adams of Camilla, Ga.; Jim Marion, former dean of the Auburn School of Agriculture; and Jimmie Loftis, director of public relations and governmental affairs for Southern States Cooperative, Inc.